Community Voices

Holiday display highlights drug epidemic

Photos by Andree Scanlon

Mother raises awareness after losing son

Dozens are making their way to a home on Roosevelt Avenue in Fullerton to hang ornaments on a tree erected to memorialize those who died of drug overdoses. There is grief, but there’s also a sense of community, the act of raising awareness of a deadly disease and, perhaps, saving lives.

It was Andree Scanlon’s idea. This is a Christmas without her son, Stephen Frank Chaplin, who died of a fentanyl overdose earlier this year at age 32.

“The goal is to have a place for families that have lost loved ones to overdose and addiction and to honor them without shame,” Scanlon said. “We have to stop the stigma of mourning in the shadows. If a loved one died of cancer, the mourning is open, but if someone dies of fentanyl or addiction/overdose they hide in their grief.”

Next to the tree there’s a tribute to her son that features photos, flowers, candles and a simple message: END STIGMA.

Stephen, by all accounts, was a lovable and troubled man. But his disease is common.

According to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, there were 107,622 deaths from drug overdoses in the United States in 2021. Sixty six percent of those were related to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. That year, the United States suffered more fentanyl-related deaths than gun- and auto-related deaths combined.

Awareness and education are keys to confronting the epidemic, and what is Christmas if not a verb? To honor, to help…

“I was hesitant this year to do any kind of Christmas,” Scanlon posted on Facebook. “This has been the hardest year for me and my family along with some friends of mine who have gone through serious, tragic loss. The first ornaments went on the tree to honor my son and I hope with word of mouth it gets around that this tree isn’t just for him, it’s for anyone who’s lost someone they love to the disease of addiction. Come by the 200 N. Roosevelt block in Fullerton and add an ornament to the tree in honor of your loved one.”

Stephen is described by his mother as a “vibrant, funny, beautiful man who loved his family, loved his children with so much intensity that I know it must have been painful for him.”

He served in the Navy, on the USS RONALD REAGAN, and traveled the world. After his stint in the military, he finished his credits to be a hairstylist, but he decided that field wasn’t for him. A father of two, he worked as a manual laborer and house painter. He also trained to be a welder. In his off time, he enjoyed music, painting and the outdoors. 

The tree honoring him and others will stand through New Year’s Day.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and want help, visit one of the many resources available at Find Help Here. If you or your family need support while living with an addict contact one of these resources: https://www.nar-anon.org/ or https://www.ocalanon.org/

Photos by Andree Scanlon

Photos by Andree Scanlon

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